Slate Magazine's Stand Against "Redskins" is Notable, But Pointless

In a symbolic move of defiance, Slate Magazine announced on Thursday that it will no longer refer to Washington's NFL team by the official name it holds. The magazine's decision to no longer refer to the "Redskins" by name is being met with some chagrin by those who see the move as a pointless, even audacious move by Slate to try to influence an industry over which it has little influence. But the magazine's move, it seems, is more of a symbolic effort than anything, and highlights an interesting new approach in ethical journalism.

Slate's Editor David Plotz announced the decision in a statement, saying that the magazine vows to no longer refer to the team by its official name. "This is the last Slate article that will refer to the Washington NFL team as the Redskins," he wrote, adding, "Changing how you talk changes how you think....If Slate can do a small part to change the way people talk about the team, that will be enough."

Slate.com, purchased by the Washington Post Company in 2004, maintains a significant online readership competitive with outlets like Salon and Time. But the magazine tends to cater towards a niche market focused on issues of current affairs and culture and does not, of course, have a significant role in sports reporting (a fact Plotz himself acknowledges), indicating its decision on the Washington team's name won't make much of a splash.

A myriad of other efforts have already been made to change the team's name, but to no avail. Activists have collected wide-ranging historical and cultural examples of the term being used pejoratively, and have sued to have the trademark removed. A bill was even introduced in the House of Representatives to void the trademark. But the Washington team's owner Daniel Snyder has vowed that the name is not going anywhere,  recently telling USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Still, the magazine's effort is an interesting, relatively new approach. Slate Magazine is not the first to go with this type of soft approach to the issue and take a journalistic stand. The Washington City Paper, writer Gregg Easterbrook and others from the Buffalo News, and the Philadelphia Daily News have all used their media prominence to attempt to put pressure on the issue. Their efforts highlight a new type of activist, ethical journalism where writers have used their platforms to push issues of proper terminology in order to try to highlight issues of racism and social justice.

While names floated about to replace Washington's team name include the "Redtails" and the "Pigskins," most people still, according to polls, support the the traditional name the team has sported since 1932. A Washington Post poll found that only 11% of Americans and 28% of D.C. residents support changing the name. 

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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